PFI Ban: The Decimation of SIMI Has Clues About How the Centre May Deal With PFI

Will Centre Extend Ban on PFI? SIMI’s Fate Has Set a Precedent To Follow

Hindi Female

On 26 September 2001, India woke up to a ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), with the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) declaring it an “unlawful association” under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act-1967 (UAPA).

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government banning the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its associated organisations under the amended UAPA on Wednesday, 28 September 2022, here’s a look at how the Vajpayee era ban affected SIMI, which was a radical Muslim students’ outfit that was accused of terrorism.

Will PFI also face a similar fate of continued prosecutions, and an ultimate wipe out?

While PFI announced that it has disbanded itself on the same day that it was banned, it remains to be seen whether the outfit will face continued bans, renewed every few years, like SIMI did. To do this, the Centre will have to continually find incriminating material on PFI and prove that it continues to exist and that it continues to indulge in unlawful activities which are prejudicial to the integrity, security, and sovereignty of India.


Two Bans: 2001 SIMI vs 2022 PFI

As per the gazette notification issued by the Home Ministry, PFI was banned for a period of five years, because of its alleged links to terror outfits including Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Centre noted that some of PFI’s founding members were from the banned SIMI. The Centre also claimed that PFI was involved in several acts of murder and violence against persons in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. The outfit was also accused of having laundered money to fund terrorist and illegal activities.

Very few political parties and leaders have opposed the ban on PFI.

In 2001, right before the SIMI ban, there was a climate worldwide to clampdown on terror outfits including Al Qaeda, following the 26/11 terror attacks in the US.
Will Centre Extend Ban on PFI? SIMI’s Fate Has Set a Precedent To Follow

Karnataka state police sweep PFI offices to arrest members on 27 September, a day before the ban.

(Image: Accessed by The Quint)

Set against this background, when the Union government in India banned SIMI, it was met with little resistance from political parties. Several parties supported the decision.

Like the PFI, even SIMI was accused of being “detrimental to the peace, integrity and secular fabric of India." The organisation, where members were mandated to be below 30 years of age, was also accused of having “links with Al Qaeda, and other militant organisations in the Gulf, Middle East, the US, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.”

SIMI was accused of looking favourably at Islamic terrorist Osama Bin Laden as a warrior of Islamic faith.
Will Centre Extend Ban on PFI? SIMI’s Fate Has Set a Precedent To Follow

Will PFI meet with SIMI's fate?

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The organisation was accused of having lauded another terrorist Maulana Mazood Azhar. Similar to the crackdown on PFI, in which over a 100 members and leaders of the outfit were arrested by the NIA in countrywide operations, over 200 members of SIMI were arrested post the ban. But unlike PFI, SIMI did not disband itself after the ban.

While the ban shook SIMI, what followed was what killed it. The ban was renewed in 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2010.

Now that PFI is banned for a period of five years, will the ban get renewed in 2027? If this has to be done, the Centre will again have to build a strong case against the organisation and its associates. It is to be noted that the political wing of PFI, Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) is still functional and not banned.  

Will the SIMI-model be a precedent for the Central government to follow in PFI’s case? Here's what happened to SIMI, an outfit which was founded in 1977, after it was banned the first time.


Will Continued ‘Evidence’ of Terror-Linked Activities Seal PFI’s Fate Like SIMI’s?

On 28 September, A Abdul Sattar, general secretary of PFI’s Kerala State Wing and one of the leaders who was not yet arrested, announced that his organisation stands disbanded countrywide. However, within hours of this announcement, Sattar was arrested by state police and handed over to the NIA.

Will PFI members face continued arrests and prosecution even after the ban and the purported dissolution of the outfit? Most likely, this could be the case, SIMI’s history has shown.

At the expiry period of each of the bans, a tribunal is expected to look into the new evidence which the investigating organisation, home ministry, and central government presents to extend the ban. In SIMI’s case, tribunals went through evidence in 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2010 to hear Centre’s reasons to extend the ban.

In each of these instances, the successive central governments and their investigating agencies including state police wings, claimed that former SIMI members indulged in seditious and terrorist activities. How?

Will Centre Extend Ban on PFI? SIMI’s Fate Has Set a Precedent To Follow

Police vehicles stay parked in front of a PFI office in Karnataka on 27 September.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

This, by bringing each and every act – a public meeting, pasting of a poster, a film screening – of former SIMI members under scrutiny.

As per research done by Mayur Suresh and Jawahar Raja, a research scholar of Jawaharlal Nehru University and SIMI's lawyer respectively, the successive central governments kept providing ‘new evidence’ most of which was not robust. Their findings were presented in a research paper titled ‘The Case Against the Student Islamic Movement of India.’

For instance, SIMI’s former members were accused of verbally insulting Hindu religion. Two former SIMI members were accused of having pasted posters that had the organisation’s name written on it, at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Will Centre Extend Ban on PFI? SIMI’s Fate Has Set a Precedent To Follow

Will the Union government extend the ban on PFI?

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Under the UAPA, being part of a banned organisation is punishable. Hence confessions of people who were arrested in criminal offences and who claimed to have been SIMI members were also presented before tribunals to build the case that SIMI was still active.

After its ban, SIMI also faced sweeping charges of indulging in terrorist activities. For instance, the organisation’s former members were accused of having played Osama Bin Laden’s video clips to unsuspecting groups. SIMI was accused of planning bombings of government and military establishments.

While the list went on, none of the tribunals except for the 2008 one, questioned the evidence presented by the central government.

Meaning, activities of PFI members and members of its associate organisations will be under close scrutiny after the ban. While PFI's political wing, SDPI, is not banned, its members too, will be under scrutiny.

Anything that suggests that the organisation is continuing to function or forming new fronts is likely to be presented before tribunals as 'evidence' to extend the ban. “There could be continued arrests. We are expecting continued persecution,” a former PFI member told The Quint on the condition of anonymity.      

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